Monday, January 24, 2005

RICO Reversal

United States v. Brenda J. Cummings, Case No. 03-2660 (01/13/2005): Reves v. Ernst & Young, 507 U.S. 170 (1993) requires for a RICO violation that someone "conduct" or "participate in" the affairs of the RICO enterprise. One of the defendants, Morris, paid bribes to Cummings and other employees of the Illinois state governmental unit responsible for administering unemployment insurance. His object was to obtain information about individuals who owed debts to creditors for whom he was working as a "skip tracer." The Court reversed the RICO conspiracy convictions of the state employee and of the skip tracer. The core function of the Illinois agency was to pay benefits to unemployed workers and to collect insurance premiums from employers. Morris was not attempting to interfere with these core functions. The government's case was not aided by the theory that state employees like Cummings had a duty to keep personal information confidential. Although the payment of bribes can sometimes give the bribor control over an enterprise, the bribes in this case did not give control, since the bribes were not offered in an effort to interfere with the agency's core functions. The Court remarked that if the government had charged the skip tracer's business as the RICO enterprise, the Court might have come to a different result.